|Educatie civica||Fabule ghicitori||Fizica||Gramatica||Joc||Literatura romana||Logica|
FACULTY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES
STRATEGIES OF RESISTANCE TO SLAVERY IN
African Americans were constricted
to an illiterate condition by their owners’ barbarous treatment, which hindered
them from understanding the world around them, and slaveholders new this. The
effects of slavery linger on during our modern times and even though the
American Civil War put an end to slavery, the
legacy of racial hatred has been a decisive influence on contemporary politics
Slave women’s bondage was different from that of men – not less severe, but simply different: the sexual abuse, child bearing, or child care responsibilities affected the women’s pattern of resistance and how they carried on with their lives.
However, slaves developed their own way of life, each dealing and struggling with slavery in their own way. With such overwhelming difficulties brought by every day life, religion was the core refuge, allowing an escape from the sufferings of slavery and bringing comfort and hope for a better future. In spite of their difficult existence, slaves had their unique ways of resisting white people’s reign over them, such as: physical uprising, striking or speaking back, maintaining family ties even when separated, hiding to escape punishment, learning to read and write, running away to the North, helping others escape to freedom.
Thus, the main purpose of my work is to highlight slaves’ strategies of resistance in some of the most known abolitionist works written in the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass’s autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The life of a slave man and a slave woman had its similarities but also its differences. The present paper aims to point out what they had to endure in a hostile system where they were subjected to physical and mental abuse from their masters; the first two significant slave narratives illustrate the real life stories of ex slaves who succeed in escaping from captivity and later on writing their memoirs, thus giving genuine, honest accounts of their enslavement period. Throughout the paper I will highlight their strategies of resistance in their way from bondage to freedom.
I have structured my paper so as to contain five chapters. The first chapter, Slavery in Contexts: History and Literary Traditions, aims to identify the concept of slavery and focus on slave narratives and the role they had in giving an accurate vision of slaves’ life, which is necessary in the context of my paper. It is divided into two main subchapters. The first subchapter deals with slavery in general terms: definition, origins, the way it spread from Europe to North America, the prosperous slave trade and their life on plantations and the refuge found in religion and oral knowledge. The second subchapter, Slave Narratives – the Abolitionist Movement’s True Voice, as the name shows it, focuses on slave narratives and its purpose is to describe their provenience, the way that they developed in time, the configuration that they acquired, the pattern that evolved and is present in most of the writing of the African American slaves and of course, to mention their role in shaping a realistic point of view about slavery and what it meant to be a slave.
The second chapter focuses on Frederick Douglass’ famous
autobiography Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass which represents one of the most successful books ever written by
a fugitive slave, and it became a major source of information about slavery and
a classic of American literature. Douglass’s oratorical and literary skilled thrust him into
the forefront of the
The next writer I will refer to in the third chapter of this paper is Harriet Ann Jacobs, an American abolitionist and writer, who published, under the pseudonym Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. While on the one hand it chronicles the experiences of Harriet Jacobs as a slave, the various humiliations she had to endure in that unhappy state, and with the particular tortures applied to women, it also deals with her strategies of resistance throughout slavery. The aim of the third chapter, Feminine Techniques of Endurance in Harriet Jacobs’s writings, is to expose slavery and strategies of resistance to slavery as seen through the eyes of a woman slave, a mother, a relentless person whose insatiable need for freedom aided her in finding autonomy for her and for her offspring. It is divided into two main subchapters, each focusing on her endurance as a slave woman: the first one presents a short background of her life and the other one focuses on her strategy of resistance as a woman: motherhood.
As a counterpoint to the previous strategies of resistance, there’s Stowe’s Uncle Tom's Cabin, which proposes religion as main refuge. The character Uncle Tom is an African American who retains his integrity and refuses to betray his fellow slaves with the price of his life. His strong Christian beliefs in the face of his brutal treatment made him a hero. The message Stowe sent to her readers was that the institution of slavery was wrong, and her anti-slavery writing had such an impact because it showed her audience that they, the Americans, enslaved people like Uncle Tom.
The fourth and last chapter aims to discuss Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Fairly situated within the sentimental tradition, Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeals to reader’s emotions, with effective
scenes of the tragedies of slavery. Uncle Tom’s strategy of resistance, his
firm Christian principles in the face of his brutal treatment made him a hero
I will picture their stories, stories of male and female slaves and their tribes and tribulations from infancy until adulthood, from being born as slaves until their escape from captivity and the life they lived after having left behind the chains of slavery.
striking aspect of
For a better understanding of the slaves’ strategies of resistance in the context of my paper, this first chapter aims to identify the concept of slavery and focus on slave narratives and the role they had in giving an accurate vision of slaves’ life and their endurance strategies; it is divided into two main subchapters. The first subchapter deals with slavery in general terms: definition, origins, the commencement of slavery in North America, the prosperous slave trade, their life on plantations and the refuge found in religion and oral knowledge. The second subchapter, Slave Narratives – the Abolitionist Movement’s True Voice, as the name shows it, focuses on slave narratives and its purpose is to describe their provenience, the way that they developed in time, the configuration that they acquired, the pattern that evolved and is present in most of the writing of the African American slaves and of course, to mention their role in shaping a realistic point of view about slavery and what it meant to be a slave.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to Black History, there is no general agreement on how the institution of slavery should be defined. There is, however, a consensus among anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and others who study on this matter that in order for someone to be called a slave they should belong to someone else, just like any other animal:
The slave was a species of property; thus, he belonged to someone else. In some societies slaves were considered movable property, in others immovable property, like real estate. They were objects of the law, not its subjects. Thus, like an ox or an ax, the slave was not ordinarily held responsible for what he did. He was not personally liable for torts or contracts. The slave usually had few rights and always fewer than his owner, but there were not many societies in which he had absolutely none. (“Slavery”)
The slaves were removed from lines of natal descent, as in most of the cases they had no kin; there was no one to stand up for them and for their rights. Thus, they were some socially dead persons in a society where they lacked any rights to participate in political decision making and other social activities, depending entirely on their master’s will for food or any personal belongings.
The product of a slave's labour could be claimed by someone else, who also frequently had the right to control his physical reproduction. Slavery was a form of dependent labour performed by a nonfamily member. The slave was deprived of personal liberty and the right to move about geographically as he desired. There were likely to be limits on his capacity to make choices with regard to his occupation and sexual partners as well. (“Slavery”)
Slavery was present in the
The exploration of coastal
Africa, the invasion of North and South America and the subsequent colonization
The moment captive Africans set foot in
Punishments, reprimands, or corrections that would have evoked a number of possible and predictable responses from “sensible Negroes” could trigger extreme and unexpected responses from unacclimated “new Negroes.” This was especially apparent when “new Negroes” committed suicide. The observer of the following incident, for instance, was at a loss to explain its sudden and decisive nature. “A few Days ago,” according to the brief report that appeared in a local news section of a mid-eighteenth century newspaper, “a fine Negroe Man Slave, imported in one of the late ships from Africa, belonging to a wheelwright, near this City, taking notice of his master's giving another correction for a Misdemeaner, went to a grindstone and making a knife sharp cut his own throat, and died on the spot”. That he was a recently imported captive, and that he had cut his throat shortly after witnessing his owner correct another slave for what was to the observer a minor offense, expressed the limits of the observer's capacity to understand the action of a fellow human being not recognized as such by those who had enslaved him, and a failure of the observer's imagination when confronted by an alien perspective (Bontemps 88)
They then had to face the challenge of surviving in a society that had acknowledged each of them to be private chattels which was organized to maintain their subservient status.
the eyes of the law and of most non-African Americans, they had no authority to
make decisions about their own lives and could be bought, sold, tortured,
rewarded, educated, or killed at a slaveholder's will.
Every aspect of the existence of an African
American – from the self-esteem of their daily labour to the spirit of their
struggle to the pursuit of art, music, and worship – “all had to be
accomplished in the face of slave society's attempt to deny their humanity.” (“Africans
Slavery spread quickly in the American colonies,
so that during most of the 17th and
18th century it was present on all of the thirteen colonies. American slavery
had a number of distinctive features: the prime distinction which was made
between the slaves in other parts of the
The appearance of a native-born slave population had numerous consequences: African-born slaves had been imported for their ability to perform physical labour, most of them being men and usually outnumbering women by about two to one.
contrast, American-born slaves began their slave careers as children and
included approximately even numbers of males and females. Masters went through
a similar process of Americanization. Those born in
Although enslaved males could sometimes retaliate against the Black men who abused their daughters, wives, and mothers, when white men assaulted Black women, raped them, and made them bear their children, they could do nothing. (Dusinberre
The violence done to the Black woman’s body was not recognized as a crime. Few relationships survived this brutal assault.” (Bancroft 122)
If the family life of a male slave was confined mostly to Saturdays when he would visit his wife who would often live on another plantation and spend time with her, the existence of female slave was distinguished and structured by childbearing and childbirth. It was not considered wrong for a girl to have a child before she got married.
Slaveholders, both men and women, manipulated Black women to have children early and frequently. First they used verbal prodding, then subtle practices such as giving pregnant women more food and less work.. Some slaveholders used an outright system of rewards such as a new dress, or silver dollar, or Saturday afternoons off. For women who resisted these “positive” incentives coercion always existed—the threat of a whipping, sale, or both. (Smith 544)
Medical care was usually unavailable or inadequate for pregnant slave women. Black women were neglected because of the popular assumptions that they were less fragile, gave birth more easily, hence needing less care compared to white women. They were thus more likely to have a midwife deliver their child than a more costly doctor. Midwives, many of whom were slaves, were usually skilled, but they could do little for women who had severe complications or for women who suffered from illness resulting from the brutality and callousness of masters, mistresses, and overseers. Also, women who had been sent back to field work or forced to perform heavy tasks too soon after delivery ran a high risk of death.
In terms of labour, there is no question that slave women worked as hard as men; they ploughed the land, they dug ditches, spread manure fertilizer, and piled coarse fodder with their bare hands. They built southern roads and railroads, and they cultivated rice or tobacco and picked cotton. Besides all this exhausting labour, slave women also did what is called women’s work. After a long week’s of sustained effort women’s recreation time was filled up by even more work like spinning, weaving, sewing, and washing, activities done on Saturday or at night. As if backbreaking work was not sufficient, slaves often endured starvation, lack of healthy rations or scarcity of clothes, while women had the extra burden of facing their masters’ sexual harassments and threats of rape from their white owners.
With such overwhelming difficulties brought by every day life, religion was the core of slave culture, allowing a refuge from the desolation of slavery and bringing comfort and hope for an improved future. In spite of the turmoil that went on in their life, slaves had their unique ways of resisting white people’s reign over them, such as: physical uprising, striking or speaking back, maintaining family ties even when separated, hiding to escape punishment, learning to read and write, running away to the North, helping others escape to freedom.
Many of those who got away from the chains of slavery either by being freed after the Civil War or by running away to the North wrote down their autobiographies telling their story and presenting to the entire world the happenings of a society which made members of the human race kneel and grovel at the hands of whites bringing discrimination and undignified treatment to African Americans and to their offspring, born and raised on American ground in servitude and disgrace.
Among such examples of ex-slaves who told their story and printed their autobiographies thus changing the outlook of future generations about slavery is Frederick Douglass, whose work I plan on analyzing in chapter two. His writings are raising the question of the dreadful treatment of African slaves and challenging the institution of slave.
The second part of this chapter is dedicated to slave narratives and its purpose is to describe their provenience, the way that they developed in time, the configuration that they acquired, the pattern that evolved and is present in most of the writing of the African American slaves and of course, to mention their role in shaping a realistic point of view about slavery and what it meant to be a slave, which is necessary in the context of my paper.
The slave narrative can be shortly defined as: “an account of the life or a major portion of the life, of a fugitive or former slave, either written or orally related by the slave personally”. (“Slave Narrative”)
comprise one of the most influential traditions in American literature, shaping the form and themes of some of the
most celebrated and controversial writing, both in fiction and in
autobiography, in the history of the
In other words, the aim of a slave narrative is to reveal the actual facts regarding slavery, by illustrating a representative personal history, a typical example – one which might as well substitute the experience of all slaves.
To begin with, I will take a look at the history
of slave narratives emphasizing the events that triggered their appearance and
what was the literary context which infused their creation. The historical
background for African
American writings produced by slaves is linked with the slave trade that
brought about two million slaves to the
The earliest slave narratives generally gave an account of a spiritual journey leading to Christian redemption and the authors frequently characterized themselves as Africans rather than slaves.
Even though the early narratives might describe slavery disapprovingly, a criticism of slavery was inclined to focus not upon the institution of slavery itself, but upon the slave trade. In fact, the most widely read and most extensively reprinted slave narrative of this era both in Britain and in the U.S. – The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano which traces Equiano's life journey from boyhood in West Africa, through the dreadful transatlantic Middle Passage, to eventual freedom and economic success as a British citizen – introduces the slave ship through the innocent perspective of an African captive:
The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. I was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me.…When I looked around the ship too and saw a large furnace or copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. (“Slave Narrative”)
The Interesting Narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African was written in order to encourage the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade. Slave narratives raise problematic questions about authorial identity and freedom. Equiano's efforts to define himself are evident in his reference to his African past; he attempts to find links between this past and his Christian present in his narrative. His argument against slavery is based on Christian ideals and by evoking his African heritage he also becomes a spokesperson for other African slaves. The illustration of his African past in the narrative is important because it is the most significant instance of his adaptation of the genre. In other words, the potential valorisation of his African home has everything to do with the seriousness of the Christian rhetoric.
Nevertheless, what has been referred to as the golden epoch of the slave narrative occurred later, when the strength of the abolitionist movement drove the demand for eyewitness accounts of slavery. Slave narratives played a vital part of the abolitionist movement and served to circulate information about slavery and southern life. Published in 1845, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas was an international success. Slave narratives had the importance of asserting the humanity of African Americans. The insertion of the phrase “written by himself” on the title page of many narratives was a supporter of truth of the claims of the texts. Although Douglass' Narrative was legendary in its popularity, in many ways the conditions of its writing and the conventions it adopted were quite typical of many ante-bellum slave narratives, particularly those written by men. Many important slave narratives of this era, such as those written by Douglass or William Wells Brown were written by men who had spent many years on the abolitionist circuit delivering speeches. Each slave narrative brought a vision to the public and every account was a valid testimony of the brutality of slavery; if there is one thing that all slave narratives have in common it’s the shocking images of force against defenceless human beings.
Narratives published during this so called peak period were remarkably alike because each narrator had as its goal the rendering him or herself as representative of the larger enslaved population while still offering a personal account of slavery. The narrator's story wanted to represent every slave's story if it was to provide an effective argument for the abolition of slavery by demonstrating that the problem was with the institution of slavery itself, not simply with individual problems within the institution.
Narratives modelled the reader's initiation into the world of slavery by tracing the young slave's movement from ignorance of his or her enslavement to recognition of the nature of slavery and, finally, to a decision to rebel against the hated institution. Narrators strived to instruct their readers and make them aware of the atrocity of slavery by indicating not only how it destroyed the family life of slaves but also how it jeopardized the family life of white owners who would have children by abusing black women and create jealousy and adultery for their legal spouse.
In many ways, the mainly white readership of the narratives drove their composition. Furthermore, white abolitionists influenced, edited, and in some cases even wrote slave narratives. The resulting tensions that emerged between black and white abolitionists were addressed in later narratives such as Douglass' autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom. Following the defeat of the slave states of the Confederate South, the narratives entered a new stage of their existence losing their magnitude and were less concerned with conveying the evils of slavery.
The narrator of a slave account is itself the main character and has certain characteristics which go along for all slave narratives: he or she is brought unexpectedly from a state of protected innocence to confrontation with the evil of slavery and captivity, he or she suffers from forced existence in an alien society being unable to submit or effectively to resist having to balance yearning for freedom against the perils of escape.
The recurrent motifs in slave narratives include, among others: exposed physical and emotional abuses of slavery: scenes of whipping, sexual abuse, starvation, especially of women or children, exposing white owners' hypocrisy and inconstancy, the quest for literacy out of the state of ignorance, the quest for freedom, making a detailed account of family members and the destruction of family ties
The slave narratives provided the most powerful voices that contradicted the slaveholders’ favourable claims concerning slavery; they were the ones speaking about the misery and endurance of a race giving freedom to thoughts and memories. According to Documenting the American South, they are significant not only for the information that they hold within about African Americans history and literature, but also because they explain the complexities of the dialogue between whites and blacks; this dialogue is contained in the structure of the antebellum slave narrative, which generally centres on an African American's narrative but is prefaced by a white-authored text and often is appended by white authenticating documents, such as letters of reference attesting to the character and reliability of the slave narrator himself or herself. Hence, the slave narrative from the early nineteenth century onward was a medium for dialogue over slavery and racial issues between whites and blacks in the North and the South.
I think that the narratives of former slaves remain an excellent and unique resource for understanding the lives of the millions of America’s slaves and their importance lies in the fact that they capture the voices of American slavery, permitting an elucidating glimpse at the life as it was experienced and remembered; each narrative offers a fragmentary representation of slave life, but read together they offer a comprehensive and wide-ranging composite view of slavery in North America, allowing us to look into some of the most significant themes of nineteenth-century slavery, such as labour, family life, relations with masters, resistance, and religious belief.
If their families and religion helped slaves to avoid total control by their owners, slaves also challenged that control more directly through different strategies of resistance, although their ability to resist was limited. Frederick Douglass, author of the most influential African American text of his era, chronicles in his autobiography his early experiences of oppression, his rebellion, and his eventual heroic achievement of a fully liberated sense of self and identity. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – metamorphosed into My Bondage and My Freedom and ultimately into Life and Times of Frederick Douglass – shows how slave-owners perpetuated slavery by keeping the slaves ignorant, as Garrison mentions in the Preface of the book: “nothing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind” (Douglass, Narrative 3). I think that through this book Douglass emphasizes the importance of literacy and active resistance, but he also recasts the American myth of the self-made man and of the American individual’s quest for freedom to include African Americans as well.
Thus, this chapter aims to analyze and discuss Frederick Douglass’s strategies of resistance in his life as a slave. He came to be a free man, a self-made man and, ultimately, the quintessential expression of black freedom. The chapter is divided into three main subchapters: the first one is dedicated to a brief biography of Douglass and the Preface of the Narrative, preface written by William Lloyd Garrison, a fervent abolitionist of the time, which is necessary for a better understanding of the following subchapters. The second subchapter, The Search for an Identity, focuses on his “education” as a slave man and as a free man who sought out his own representative self and the last subchapter, The Power of Literacy, aims to discuss upon the crucial importance of education in Frederick’s life, the first step that will lead him through the right path towards freedom.
First of all it should be mentioned that identity and origin are the subjects of his writing and, as Vince Brewton noticed, his unforgettable opening declaration “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland” (Douglass, Narrative 12):
places the text within the narrative context of
mid-nineteenth century first-person literary productions – Poe’s fictional
narrators; the persona of Emerson's essays; Thoreau's journals; Whitman's Song
of Myself, Melville's Ishmael;
It is known that he was probably born around year 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland, U.S., his original name being Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. The child of a slave, Harriet Bailey, and an unknown white man, Frederick was a slave ever since he was born, because by law children followed the status of their mothers; he was separated from her at a very early age and never knew her well. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, he initially lived with his grandparents and then was placed under the care of a woman called Aunt Katy, who raised slave children on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd.
At the age of seven or eight,
Later on, he became convinced of the injustice
of slavery and the right of all people to be free. Nevertheless, when
(…) this battle with Mr. Covey, undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration of it is, was the turning point in my “life as a slave.” It rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty; (…) I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before; I was a man now. It recalled to life my crushed self-respect, and my self-confidence, and inspired me with a renewed determination to be a free man. (Douglass, Life 172)
His subscribing to the newsletter of the
American Anti-Slavery Society, The Liberator, was
the initial step that Douglass made in assuring his membership in the Anti-Slavery
Society. He was asked to speak before the Society's annual meeting in
At times, Douglass and Garrison could not come to an agreement on the issue of violence for achieving freedom, as the former came to believe that slavery could not be ended peacefully, while the latter was a pacifist and took an anti-political attitude. This split between Douglass and Garrison occasioned a period of reflection that ended up with Douglass's second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). Throughout his later years, Douglass was a supporter of the Republican Party:
the election of Abraham Lincoln
and welcoming the Civil War as a final means of ending slavery, Douglass
lobbied the new president in favor of African American recruitment for the
Union Army. When the war ended, Douglass pleaded with President Andrew Johnson
for a national voting rights act that would give African Americans the
franchise in all the states. Douglass's loyalty to the Republican Party, whose
candidates he supported throughout his later years, won him appointment to the
highest political offices that any African American from the North had ever
won: federal marshal and recorder of deeds for the
earnings resulted from this position, combined with the fees he received for
his popular lectures, most notably the one entitled Self-Made Men and his investments in real estate, gave Douglass and
his family the opportunity to live in comfort in Uniontown, near
Following the death of his wife, Douglass married his white secretary; he was widely criticized for marrying outside his race, but he firmly held on to the fact that his actions should not be constrained by his skin colour; for him the marriage was one more victory in his lifelong battle against racial discrimination. Douglass died in 1895 but his legacy as the foremost African-American spokesperson of the nineteenth century lives and will live on.
Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass an American Slave. Written by Himself
is the full title of his book; the supplement of Written by Himself
emphasizes the fact that it is an authentic and truthful narrative of the
author’s real experience with slavery; it includes a preface written by William Lloyd Garrison, the
founder of the abolitionist newspaper The
Liberator. When Douglass escaped from slavery in 1938, he was deeply
inspired by Garrison, who devoted his life to ridding
Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence! – fortunate for the millions of his manacled brethren, yet panting for deliverance from their awful thralldom! – fortunate for the cause of negro emancipation, and of
universal liberty! – fortunate for the land of his birth, which he has already done so much to save and bless!--fortunate for a large circle of friends and acquaintances. (Douglass, Narrative 3)
The Preface is more like a speech given to a large audience trying to persuade them of the atrocity of slavery; Garrison employs public speaking style energetic, influential, making use of symmetries and comparisons so that he may have impact on the readers. Garrison maintains his admiring words when speaking of Frederick Douglass: “May his strength continue to be equal to his day! May he continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, that he may be increasingly serviceable in the cause of bleeding humanity, whether at home or abroad” (Douglass, Narrative 6)
mentions the problem of the forced ignorance which has been cast over slaves in
order to keep their minds from evolving. He also states that a white man would
be unable to cope with such a situation and he gives the anecdote of an
American sailor stranded on coast of
O, how accursed is that system, which entombs the godlike mind of man, defaces the divine image, reduces those who by creation were crowned with glory and honor to a level with four-footed beasts, and exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that is called God! (Douglass, Narrative 9)
obvious question then follows – how come that beings as close as divinity are
kept in poor conditions and suffer at the hands of other mortals equally
sharing the same status therefore having to tolerate whips, chains,
thumb-screws, blood-hounds, patrols, and other horrible crimes; Garrison
believes that slavery and those who think it is a normal thing comes as a cause
of discrimination: “generally, it indicates a hatred of the light, a desire to
shield slavery from the assaults of its foes, a contempt of the colored race”
(Douglass, Narrative 9-10). The
abolitionist refers to the murders of slaves mentioned in the narratives that go unpunished because by law black people were not allowed
to testify against whites showing that
black have no from of legal protection; he accuses slaveholders to be impostors
and in his final lines directly addresses the public and the readers: ”Reader! are
you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their
down-trodden victims?” (Douglass, Narrative
11) Garrison wants to make a statement and his effective rhetoric is more than
captivating touching topics that will be depicted by Douglass in the narrative,
it rouses readers’ thoughts who find slavery despicable and inconceivable; in
the end he advocates for the following statement, written in capital letters: “NO
COMPROMISE WITH SLAVERY! NO
the Preface, there comes the letter
from Wendell Phillips, Esq.
(leading figure in the Anti-Slavery Society, magnificent orator, the society's most popular public speaker) written to Douglass; its style is quite different from the Preface written by Garrison, it is less ostentatious, less elaborate, keeping the formal style of a letter. Like Garrison, he cites an anecdote, referring in a metaphorical way to Douglass’ work. As he is aware that Douglass comes from that part of North America where slavery appears with its fairest features, he states: “Let us hear, then, what it is at its best estate – gaze on its bright side, if it has one” (Douglass, Narrative 14); we can easily notice the subtle irony at the end of the quote pointing to the fact that slavery in all its conditions and forms has only dark parts. This letter is not just any document, it is Phillips’ testimony that the slave narrative is accurate and with no fictitious events; he writes:
Again, we have known you long, and can put the most entire confidence in our truth, candor, and sincerity. Every one who has heard you speak has felt, and, I am confident, every one who reads your book will feel, persuaded that you give them a fair specimen of the whole truth. No one-sided portrait,-- no wholesale complaints, - but strict justice done, whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for a moment, the deadly system with which it was strangely allied. (Douglass, Narrative 14)
Then comes the text itself, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which includes eleven chapters that recount Douglass' life as a slave and his ambition to become a free man. As it is an autobiography, the word 'I” has an elevated status – it elevates the individualism and the authority of the first person. Generally, one of the main attractions for readers is the authenticity of the text and the direct contact between a reader and a writer. Douglass will take this into consideration, so as a result will invoke the readers’ moral conscience; at the same time he engages the readers in an authentic testimonial about the institution of slavery.
Frederick Douglass’ reality, outlook on life, his roots and development are closely related to his family, religious beliefs and ”education” as a slave man and as a free man who sought out his own identity. Being a mulatto in a white racist society meant complex responses to the outside world and to his own inner feelings. Indeed, it is impossible to understand Douglass without understanding his intricate racial world view. An undercurrent of racial ambivalence, symbolized by his mulatto identity, complicated this racial teleology.
Douglass's expanding racial awareness demonstrated an increasingly sophisticated perception of self-identity, collective identity, and their mutual dependence. Clearly, the essential aim of his life was to resolve the problem of race. (Martin 1)
Even during his early infancy he came to realize that the society in which he lived established hierarchies were whites were free and blacks were slaves. He perceived that most slaves, unlike whites, did not know their birthdays. This personal fact haunted him throughout his life. He wrote in 1845 that it “was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood.” (Douglass, Narrative 23) The white children knew their own age, just the blacks were deprived of this right.
discovering that Aaron Anthony – his master – was, most likely, his father, his
developing sense of identity complicated. Harriet Bailey, his mother, was, like
Frederick and the rest of his family, a slave in Tuckahoe,
Notwithstanding these passing paternal touches, the primary images of Anthony in Frederick's mind painted him as very troubled, sadistic, and sexually and physically abusive toward his female slaves, notably Frederick's Aunt Hester, whom he desired but who herself was in love with a fellow slave. The 'penalty for having a white father,' he recalled, was very heavy. 'A man who will enslave his own blood,' he observed, 'may not be safely relied on for magnanimity. (Martin 4)
the master-father, the child was a sin which he preferred to pay no attention
to. For the child, the results of this paternal rejection were often painful.
She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary – a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. (Douglass, Narrative 18)
father did not recognize him as his son though he
asserted an authoritative role over him solely exposing his power and treating
him as a slave while his feeble mother, subdued to the tyrannies of slavery,
died. Thus, with no family left, the loss of his mother had important
consequences for his psyche and racial attitude. An orphaned mulatto, he was
psychologically divided between two worlds; nonetheless, as a slave, he had no
choice but to live in his mother's world.
for the young
The trauma of
The idea of free and its meaning that Douglass comes to comprehend in the Narrative, and its consequences for his successful quest for liberty, owe a considerable debt to the white-master consciousness that had enslaved him. The direct opposite of slave is free, but this new condition requires some clarification, an identity more psychologically and socially concrete than merely not-slave.
being given the “inch” by Sophia, the ambitious young
He would carry a Webster's Spelling-Book while running errands or playing and would prevail upon his white playmates to share their spelling skills with him. (Martin 15)
According to Daniel J. Royer, Douglass’ demythologized understanding of his condition as a slave comes early in his life and his outlook of the world begins with an inquiry into the nature and history of slavery.
He discovers not only what he already knew – that slavery is dreadful and capable of being resisted by force – but that slavery is wrong according to the masters’ own precepts, and that the masters themselves (as Thomas Auld was in fact to confess to Douglass at the time of their deathbed interview) understand that slavery is wrong.
What Douglass discovers when he learns “the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder” is not only a way to replace self-defeating force by more promising persuasion, but also a new kind of identity.
Because is not only himself the child of an unidentified mother, born in cherry-blossom time rather than in March—nor even merely his social self—the slave of so-and-so, whom he can perhaps force not to beat him. He becomes Frederick Douglass the citizen, not only the bearer of desires, wishes, and capacities of force, but also the bearer of rights and of duties, someone capable of appearing in the public arena and arguing with someone else on common grounds of persuasion. (Burt 16)
This new identity, citizenship, opens up the possibility of some response to the problem of enslavement that there can be relationships without submission and force, that respect and solidarity may exist. He is aware of the fact that literacy will do more than just liberate him physically – it will give him the possibility to integrate into a human community. At the beginning this hope is also a curse for him, because it appears to offer only alienation. He mentions in the Narrative:
As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. (Douglass, Narrative 6)
This sudden despair is the unfolding of hope to come because once his mind is awakened by his power of literacy the dark shadow which has been cast upon him seems possible to be broken and thus freedom is just a step away.
Even Hugh Auld acknowledges that literacy was a currency that offered much more than literal freedom. Presenting to his wife what Douglass called the true philosophy of slavery, Auld delivers the first abolitionist speech ever heard by Douglass.
When Douglass describes Auld's remarks as the 'true philosophy of slavery,' he is identifying the historical, systematic ideology that sought to maintain white superiority by depriving blacks of literacy. (Royer 7)
Douglass now realizes that reading and writing transforms the child-slave into a free-man. Unfortunately for Douglass, it will take more than just knowledge to free the chains that bound him to the will of his white owners, but as his strength of character and his mental power increase, his own identity which is now free will lead him through the right path towards freedom.
After he managed to learn to write, his life was full of hope. Unfortunately, his old master Captain Anthony died and Douglass had to go back to the plantation, because now he belonged to the Captain’s children Andrew and Lucretia. After Lucretia and Andrew pass away the property, including slaves, Douglass became the slave of Mr. Auld’s son, Thomas. He had harsh conditions and suffered from hunger. Shortly after, Master Thomas hired Douglass for one year to Edward Covey, who had a reputation of breaking young slaves. For the first time in his life Douglass was now a field hand. While he worked on the farm, he experienced severe whipping
I had been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger. (Douglass, Narrative 26)
Douglass explains how they worked hard in all weathers. He admits that a few months of discipline tamed him:
Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute. (Douglass, Narrative 27)
In this highly important scene, we have the slave breaker synechdochally standing in for the institution of slavery. The antagonist is the embodiment of all that is evil and despicable Douglass takes care to portray his double face posing as a pious member of the church community but whose deeds speak of a low moral standard. He shows the reality of slavery, unmasking its claim to uphold moral virtue and the Christian sanctity of marriage.
Douglass's “giving the lie” to Covey's hypocrisy marks an ideological challenge to slave-owning culture as a whole, and the gesture is formally intrinsic to power relations in a system of honour relations. (Brewton 710)
As Jason Matzke pointed out, his defence against Covey’s assault was directly aimed at protecting himself against a physical abuse, but in the end, it resulted in a change in his conception of himself. Thus, fighting his master and standing for himself is a remarkable strategy of resistance for Douglass. Describing his state of mind before the life changing fight, he says:
I was completely wrecked, changed and bewildered; goaded almost to madness at one time, and at another reconciling myself to my wretched condition. (Douglass, Bondage 169)
gained a sense of personal dignity and self-respect. The individuality of Douglass’s
text is “the perfect vehicle for its core plot, his transformation from a
chattel slave into a fully recognized human being, into, as he
Well, my dear reader,
this battle with Mr. Covey -- undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration
of it is -- was the turning point in my 'life as a slave.' It
rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty; it brought up my
Also, the duration of the fight can be considered as a hyperbole in order to show Covey’s humiliation, adding an epic dimension to this life-altering event. In the end, both are exhausted, the attacker and the victim, but the one winning this battle was clearly Douglass. He not only stood up for himself, but made Covey see him as a person with strength, not a mere object or animal to be used. As Jason Matzke observes, this event meant for Douglass the regaining of his moral self-worth.
I may be
deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a
special interposition of divine
He is not only determined to win his freedom but he represents the cause of the oppressed through the literary recreation of his life. This idea can be found all through the Narrative and permeates his interpretation of the symbolic contest with Covey.
Providential self-representations are frequently variations on a theme of good versus evil, and American history has framed the conflict of good and evil in terms of long familiar oppositions: settlement versus wilderness, Puritan versus Indian, faith against unbelief. North against South, mm and temperance, native and immigrant, freedom opposed to slavery. The Narrative pivots on the struggle between slave-breaker and slave that allows Douglass to adopt a heroic character in the 'the dark night of slavery' and likewise invoke a heroic discourse suitable to titanic struggles in this tradition. Although the Narrative validates an identity dynamic substantially indebted to the social relations of slavery, what it loses in discursive coherence with the ideology of abolition it recovers in rhetorical power by invoking the imagery of good versus evil. (Brewton 714)
The clash with Covey is the stepping-stone towards the road to freedom from slavery, as Douglass after this incident will never allow his personality or physique to be affected by masters. He has matured mentally through the encounter with literacy and this physical fight brought about the man in him who will fight for completing his destiny and making his escape.
In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and even more strikingly in My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass moves away from conventions and stretches traditional boundaries, concerning himself as a writer more with what to do than with what to say. The distinction between mere mastery of rhetorical strategy and intersubjective awareness is important; Douglass throughout the Narrative builds a discursive relationship with his reader.
The Narrative is full of metaphorical and oratory rhetoric typical of its period. There is a constant use of Christian diction and imagery, as in the famous passage of the fight with Covey. Douglass's restoration from slavery is one example, and also the repeated characterization of Covey as a snake.
The style of the Narrative is ironical, dramatic at times, it uses oratorical artifices in order to touch the reader and assert how cruel and unnatural the institution of slavery is. The first person narration offers a personal view of slavery and makes the reader even closer to the character that starts his journey as a child slave and at maturity, after trials and tribulations, succeeds in gaining his freedom and his identity as well as acquiring the knowledge of reading and writing. Frederick Douglass continues to be the archetypal African-American hero: a successful self-made man, a hardworking and a fearless representative and an everlasting believer in the principles of humanism. His life story exemplifies both the romance and the reality of heroic greatness, and it is a quest for self, self-assuredness and for liberation.
conclusion, Douglass’s main strategies of resistance, which helped him become
the man who will fight for completing his destiny and making his final escape
from slavery were, first of all, the encounter with literacy and, more than
anything, the physical fight with his
master, which meant for Douglass a regaining of his moral self-worth and which
was at the same time the stepping-stone towards the road to freedom. Eventually,
through his abolitionist activities and anti-slavery writing, he came to be the
most outstanding speaker and commanding writer of nineteenth century black
African Americans were constricted to an illiterate condition by their owners’ barbarous treatment, which hindered them from understanding the world around them, and slaveholders new this. Similarly, the slaves who were able to read and write always were the ones who rebelled more against their masters. As previously shown, Frederick Douglass was such an example. The other one is Harriet Jacobs; what they have in common is their strategies of resistance, as both of them had been taught how to read and write at a young age and both gained their freedom by escaping to the northern states. They developed a sense of identity and denied the identity of a slave. Nevertheless, slave women’s bondage was different from that of men – not less severe, but simply different: the sexual abuse, child bearing, or child care responsibilities affected the women’s pattern of resistance and how they carried on with their lives. Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl demonstrates the different role that women slaves had and the struggles of having to cope with sexual abuse.
In Stephanie Li’s opinion, Jacobs’s main strategy of resistance, as shown in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, is motherhood. Depicting her tranquil and joyful childhood, as Li observes, she underlines the connection between a sense of freedom and maternal care; she is not a born slave, she is a daughter of her mother, she is a child who needs nurturing and protection and who is on the point of creating her own identity and sense of self. Li also raises the legitimate question: how are we to conceptualize maternal identity under enslavement conditions? This gender-issue seems to place her out of the traditional symbolics of female gender.
Furthermore, because procreation by bondwomen can be regarded as both a means of perpetuating slavery and an act of love and self-sacrifice, the sexuality of enslaved women and their relationship to their offspring must be understood as a complex negotiation involving individual agency, resistance, and power. (Li 1)
I would add the fact that in her writing, the patterns of the masculine slave narratives are modified so as to expose her own struggles; focusing, generally, on the specific plight of women held in slavery, and, particularly, on the sexual exploitation they often had to endure, her autobiography challenges the discourse of sentimentality.
The aim of this chapter is to explore slavery and strategies of resistance to slavery as seen through the eyes of a woman slave, a mother, a person whose insatiable need for freedom aided her in finding autonomy for her and for her offspring. This third chapter is divided into two subchapters, each focusing on her endurance as a slave woman: the first one presents a short background of her life and the other one focuses on her strategy of resistance as a woman: motherhood.
The slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a slave Girl is the first-person account of Jacobs's pseudonymous narrator Linda Brent, who exposes the story of her life-breaking taboos to present her sexual history in slavery. As noted in the Oxford African American Studies Center, her woman-centred slave narrative highlights family relationships, reshaping the genre to encompass female experience under the chains of the institution of slavery
Jacobs enjoyed a happy family life
until the death of her mother; at the age of six, she was taken into the home
of her mistress, who taught her to read and to sew. When she became a teenager
she lost her father and was sent to live in the home of Dr. James Norcom, whom
she characterizes as the wicked “Dr. Flint”; there she was subjected to insistent sexual harassment. Jacobs's
Linda declares that to prevent “
Through her activist brother, John, Harriet met many abolitionists, among which Amy Post, whom she befriended. Eventually she was to find her children, but had to move constantly to escape her owner; she also worked as a nursemaid for the family of noted editor Nathaniel P. Willis, as stated in Documenting the American South, and she was on the run until 1852, when Cornelia, Willis's wife, purchased Harriet’s freedom. After her liberation, Harriet started thinking of Amy Post’s idea that she put on paper her life’s history. However, she had serious doubts about revealing her enslavement recollections, believing that facts of her account were too shameful. In the end she agreed on the condition that her supporters Amy Post and Cornelia Willis solicit Harriet Beecher Stowe on becoming her narrator; Stowe refused, and came with a counter offer to use Jacobs's story in her own forthcoming Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. However, this refusal did more than offend the former bondwoman and mother: it gave her the chance to use her own voice to speak on behalf of two million enslaved “mothers and sisters”. She started publishing a column, Letter from a Fugitive Slave, in the New York Tribune, anonymously. Furthermore, hearing of her devoted grandmother's death inspired her self-confidence; according to Margaret Washington, she wrote in one of her correspondence letters to Amy Post:
shall have truth but not talent. God did not give me that gift but he gave me a
soul that burned for freedom and a heart nerved with determination (…)” (
Just like in her youth with Mr. Sands, the
middle-aged free woman took a more liberating but self-sacrificing plunge by
revealing their intimacy to the public, as Margaret
Washington points out. After a few years of writing by candlelight following a
full day's work as a nanny, Jacobs could not find a publisher in the U.S. or
England due to her narrative's content but, in 1860 the firm of Thayer and
Eldridge agreed to publish Jacobs if author Lydia Maria Child would edit the
manuscript and write a foreword. Black abolitionist William C. Nell arranged a
meeting, and even though Jacobs was apprehensive, Child agreed to the
partnership and suggested fictitious names to protect whites in
However, Jacobs was aware that narratives were frequently contested. The
first line of Incidents in the Life of a
Slave Girl’ preface promises truth: “Reader, be assured this narrative is
no fiction.” (Jacobs 1) She declares: “I want to add my testimony to that of
abler pens to convince the people of the
At the same time, Jacobs quite literally is giving evidence of crimes - wrongs that cannot be prosecuted legally, since witnessed by and committed against slaves. Denied a legal voice, Jacobs prosecutes the perpetrators through her literary voice. Her book becomes a symbolic courtroom - a lawsuit for her own freedom and a criminal trial against slaveholders and complicit Northerners. Whatever the law says, once someone reads Jacobs’s book, her testimony has been presented and she becomes both a witness and a subject, a position slave law tries to deny. (Accomando 2)
Incidents begins with the unforgettable phrase “I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away.” (Jacobs 7) Linda finds out about her repression following the death of her mother. The intersection of these two events indicates the power of a mother to protect her children from the constant and imminent risks and disappointments of life and establishes the central opposition in her writing between motherly care and slavery. Even if Linda was born a slave, she reflects, “I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise (…).” (Jacobs 7)
After her mother’s death she will continue searching a maternal figure:
The abrupt end of Brent's mother's care, so fundamental to the child's psychic development, cuts off her construction, from her mother's example, of the psychic tools that she is in the process of amassing in these crucial, formative years in order to counsel and protect herself against her external world. In perhaps instinctive awareness of this incomplete internalization process, Brent embarks upon a continuous search for an external maternal figure. (Randle 1)
The critical age when she lost her mother is the time when the creation of her identity and her personality should have started. Therefore, in an attempt to fill in the remaining emptiness after her mother’s death, Harriet will attach herself to different mother figures; she concludes that “home was now to be with (…) mistress” (Jacobs 9) showing that even in terms of physical location she belongs to her mistress rather than to her own father.
My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would permit. I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as free from care as that of any free-born white child. (Jacobs 9)
The figure of the slave master becomes a cruel substitute for the mother, demonstrating the ease with which slavery displaces and disrupts family relationships. However, as a surrogate mother, Linda's mistress fails because she does not free Linda as she promised to her dying mother. Despite this treachery, Linda will not blame her mistress for anything:
I would give much to blot out from my memory that one great wrong. As a child, I loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy days I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness of this act of injustice. (Jacobs 10)
Linda does not criticize her mistress because she appreciates the happiness she enjoyed with her, and this reinforces the importance of family bonds. The purpose of maternal figures in her narrative is that of relating the horrors of slavery to free women readers; it appeals directly to the free mothers, who would sympathize with the sufferings of slave mothers. Jacobs and Prince exemplifies best how slavery violated the bonds of family in the chapter entitled The Slave’s New Year’s Day:
Hiring-day at the south takes place on the lst of January. On the 2d, the slaves are expected to go to their new masters. On a farm, they work until the corn and cotton are laid. They then have two holidays. Some masters give them a good diner under the trees. This over, they work until Christmas eve . Then comes New Year’s eve; and they gather together their little alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait anxiously for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear their doom pronounced. (Jacobs 14)
Her mother’s twin sister,
Nancy, is perhaps the most appropriate maternal figure for the young girl after
her mother's death. Brent highlights the importance of her aunt in her life,
although she dedicates her just a short chapter, as she concentrates mainly on
her difficult tasks she has to do for mister
We longed for a home like hers. There we always found sweet balsam for our troubles. She was so loving, so sympathizing! . . . There was a grand big oven there, too. (Jacobs 16)
She is the figure that will play the most important part in her life, representing the raw model for Harriet and the person she looks up to; a freed slave on the plantation who nurtures and protects her grandchildren. The grandmother represents the rigid moral code, the repository of moral values and standards but she is also faithful to her master and thinks that her grandchildren should obey him and remain pure and virtuous. The old woman tells Brent that she was also against slavery once but that, “when sore troubles came upon her, and she had no arm to lean upon, she learned to call on God, and he lightened her burdens.” (Jacobs 20).
These surrogate mothers – the mistress, Aunt Nancy, and her grandmother – are of crucial support for Jacobs in her pre-adolescent years and shape her view of motherhood, by giving her mental and physical comfort and, above all, creating her own identity and shaping her personality.
As a teenager, Linda faces a new and dangerous threat:
My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother's grave, his dark shadow fell on me, even there. The light heart which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master's house noticed the change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause. They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished. (Jacobs 23)
The promiscuous future that awaited Linda if she had fallen prey to her master was a reality for most slave girls who at a young age got abused frequently by their masters and who were denied any choices over their own body. She says that the teen years are for a slave girl full of terror and fright. Linda, taking the example of her mother wishes to become a free wife, the moral keeper in a domestic, ideal image, living in a home and protected by the laws. Thinking that like her parents she will have the opportunity to fulfil this vision even as a slave, she asks her master permission to marry a “young coloured carpenter; a free born man”. Dr. Flint immediately recognizes the emancipatory potential represented by the marriage contract and he refuses her request and declares his right to rule over her, even that of killing her. Seeing herself constrained in the impossibility to marry the man of her choice, she enters a liaison with a man who has won her heart with sympathy. “This act is a deliberate statement of free-will and independence.” (Cope 1). She takes the risk of alienating her readers insisting that the alternative was a free one, made with a man who had no control over her:
I will not try to screen myself behind the plea of compulsion from a master; for it was not so. Neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness. I knew what I did, and I did it with deliberate calculation. (…)
There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment. It is less degrading to give one's sell than to submit to compulsion. (Jacobs 25)
After the birth of her son Benjamin, she comes to realize that her life is now entirely linked to that of another. Motherhood involves admitting the fact that her survival is essential for the well-being of the child. She comes to understanding only after struggling with a wish that her son should die because death would be better than slavery. However, when he falls ill, she desperately prays that he may live; eventually she realizes that her most meaningful source of hope and purpose lies in her children. After becoming sick following one of Dr. Flint's harangues, Linda is relieved that she does not die, thinking about her children; she vows to protect them from any harm slavery could bestow on them:
I could have made my escape alone; but it was more for my helpless children than for myself that I longed for freedom. Though the boon would have been precious to me, above all price, I would not have taken it at the expense of leaving them in slavery. Every trial I endured, every sacrifice I made for their sakes, drew them closer to my heart, and gave me fresh courage to beat back the dark waves that rolled and rolled over me in a seemingly endless night of storms. (Jacobs 65)
By emphasizing her sentiments as a mother, Jacobs denies the common beliefs concerning black women's indifference to their children, while also establishing an important association between her protagonist Linda Brent and domestic ideologies. She chooses to present the events in Linda’s life and her actions as largely dictated by the consequences they will have on her children. As Gloria Randle points out in her African American Review article, many female slaves were unable to keep their families united, however, by emphasizing the oppositional action inspired by maternal sentiment Jacobs presents motherhood as a force that resists slavery and its supporters.
Maternal love is shown to offer a model of relations that opposes the economy of exchange and possession characterizing the antebellum system of human bondage. Converting her body and reproductive abilities from sites of exploitation to vehicles of resistance, Linda undermines the authority of the slave master and works to liberate her children. (Randle 10)
All she wants is to improve the lives of her children. Thus, other than describing the abuses of slavery specific to women, motherhood symbolizes a basic form of female empowerment. Her motherhood and her ulterior motives concerning her children and their welfare is also an anti slavery move and against her master as well.
Linda ends her narrative with the typically African gesture of honouring her ancestry; “while negating her death, her narrative ends with freedom but not marriage, and the happy home she dreamt of is still not accomplished.” (Beardslee 37)
Jacobs shows that, despite the legal erasure of slave families, family survives, though often in a redefined form. The redefinition of family is part of her redefinition of womanhood and is linked to her reformulation of the domestic novel. She subverts the marriage plot of domestic fiction, the expectation that the story will end with male-female domestic union. Family is privileged, but husband is not; motherhood is valued, but marriage specifically is omitted. (Taves 61)
As Margaret Washington noticed in her Journal of African American History article, the narrative of the female bondage invokes a genre similar to the normative sentimental novel style which was encompassed in most antislavery autobiographies, complete with classic physical and emotional brutality, a transforming experience, a heroic slave mother, and the subject finding her voice – all overseen by the white editor, in these cases a female reformer.
The literary text created by Jacobs has reshaped the genre of the slave narrative, previously discussed and defined mainly through male-authored texts. She has gained recognition both in critical studies and in course syllabi and in many ways has come to represent the female slave narrator. The issues that she approaches are a sustained legal critique, articulated on literal and figurative levels throughout her narrative. In the years before the civil war, she engaged in the legal debates over human enslavement.
In Incidents, she reframes and rearticulates legal and cultural discourses of slavery and womanhood to uncover their fictive construction. Jacobs does not merely replace fiction with truth; instead, she calls on her readers to pay attention to framing (legal and otherwise) and to put into the frame erased perspectives. (Accomando 10)
She tackles the problem of racial identity, literacy, miscegenation, rape, and reproduction and her text is of great power and purpose. Most probably, the most important trait of her text is the rhetoric she implies when it comes to motherhood. She deliberately constructs her text to appeal to the sensibilities of a largely white, female, and middle-class audience. We might assume that these women would have been especially sympathetic to Jacobs’s struggle to honour the relationship between reproduction and the development of familial bonds. Many times Jacobs reinforces the idea that Linda wishes to preserve her purity, her girl instincts and wants an ideal family based on love and mutual understanding, it is only her slave status that stands in the way. According to Stephanie Li, by appealing to her audience as women and specifically as mothers, Jacobs makes them take political action and end the devastating practice of slavery
Although it is clear that her targeted readers are white and the focus of her narrative is the plight of black slaves, Jacobs avoids identifying these two groups racially, concentrating instead on geographic differences. Jacobs naturalizes maternal sentiment even as Linda's actions demonstrate the need for a willed and deliberate restoration of the mother-child bond. (Li 23)
In conclusion, I think that the fact that she could read and write – the power of literacy that is – can stand as a first strategy of resisting the degradations of slavery; motherhood and self determination are her other main strategies of endurance, as shown in this chapter. Her narrative has, nonetheless, the traits of a sentimental novel – the readers of such novels were used to view literature as a form of moral edification. Jacobs’s slave narrative Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl spoke about democratic ideals: it examined and confronted the institution of slavery as well as the patriarchal social system and traditional ideologies. Her first concern was her ability to continue retaining a mother figure after the death of her biological mother; the second, her compromise between enforced immorality and a personal code of virtue; and, finally, her mediation between slavery and freedom – as her actions revealed during the seven-year interval in her grandmother's garret.
Although the slave narratives were immensely popular, in order to show the continuities and differences in abolitionist writing I will further portray a different type of anti-slavery strategy. If Douglass, Jacobs and others gained their individual authority from writing their own true story, the abolitionism could use the form established by the slave narrative to create – even fictional – moving stories, that would be an effective complement to them. The abolitionist piece of writing which would reach the widest audience, thus having a striking impact, was written by a white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and her anti-slavery message came in the form of a novel called Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Abolitionist writing could speak both as and for the slave, exploiting a range of literary genres, including borrowing from the slave narrative itself, as Kerry Sinanan puts it:
While their goals may have been the same, white abolitionists and slaves had very different histories and personal experiences. Shaped within a difficult time in history, the slave narratives comprise the agreements and antagonisms both of black and white abolitionists, while ultimately articulating black self determination and a unifying demand for freedom. (Sinanan 1)
This chapter aims to highlight another form of slavery resistance, this time as it was perceived by a white abolitionist woman, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel of fictitious nature.
As pointed out by Kerry Sinanan, Harriet Beecher Stowe could omit the need to deceive her audience about the fictitious nature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and instead use the preface in order to justify the use of fiction treat slavery:
The poet, the painter, and the artist now seek out and embellish the
common and, under the allurements of fiction, breathe a humanizing and subduing
influence, favorable to the development of the great principles of Christian
brotherhood… In this general movement, unhappy
Stowe wants her reader to be seduced by the novel’s “allurements” and by its special ability to remind Christians of their duty as human beings. The abolitionist novel emerges, therefore, as a literary genre inspired by slave narrative that attempts to go beyond rationalist argument, political prudence or outraged rhetoric to forge an imaginative response between the white abolitionist and the slave.
Much of the critical attention to questions of race in Uncle Tom’s Cabin has focused on the prominent figure of Tom. According to Stowe:
…he was a large, broad chested, powerfully made man, of a full glossy back and a face whose truly African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindliness and benevolence. (Stowe 18)
With “the soft, impressible nature
of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and the childlike” (Stowe
127), he is drown to the young Eva St. Clare, the daughter of his
The slave trader Haley seems to get it right when he markets Tom to Augustin St. Clare as “all the moral and Christian virtues bound in black morocco” (Stowe 129). Tom is a beautifully bound and stereotyped book of virtues. According to Kerry Sinanan, he is bound in various senses: legally, by slavery; racially, by his skin; theologically, by his Christian destiny; and ideologically, by Stowe. However, “most of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, black and white, are not intended to be realistic portrayals whose absence is lamented by many critics.” (Sinanan 10) Sinanan also observes that they are products of Stowe’s extraordinary ability in her first novel to give eloquent forms to ideas about character and to discern and recast types: the little blonde evangelist, the anguished quadroon, the discontented mulatto, the sensitive (and ultimately ineffective) master, the selfish mistress, the vicious master (from New England), the conscientious spinster (who becomes conscious of her prejudice), and the Christian slave (the darker, the more devout) and seems like Stowe makes her arguments through these types.
Tom is portayed as a patient sufferer who embraces his masters. “God bless you, Mas’r,” Tom says to St. Clare, with tears in his eyes, when his new owner announces that he has bought him (131). At Legree’s plantation, Tom, like Christ, incorporates suffering. He absorbs the blows and will not strike back. He forgives the hands that torture him. He converts the brutal slaves Sambo and Quimbo. He worries about the souls of his tormentors.
Quite a pause, in which the hardest of hearts is encouraged to feel, in which Tom is at his most sacrificial, and in which Legree, offered a last chance, proves irredeemable. Yet Stowe is careful o represent his “eager docility” (Stowe 343) as an active force, an expression of strength through its reserve. Stowe invites her readers to identify with Tom – or Legree for that matter – to appreciate the meanings of Tom’s suffering, and to be moved. Especially moving is Tom’s capacity to turn the other cheek, to take abuse and forgive his abusers. What exactly is impressive about the scene of Tom’s sacrifice? Certainly, it is the character’s nobility, discipline and faith.
Tom looked up to his master and answered, “Mas’r, if you was sick or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d give ye my heart’s blood.; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ‘t will hurt me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but if ye don’t repent, yours wont never end!” (Stowe 421)
In the death of Tom, a gentle child-man, a female man who, beaten again and again, absorbs the blows and refuses to strike back, Stowe has painted a picture that conveys racial injustice and also contains the specter of African American retribution.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shaddows of thy laws! O Christ! Thy church sees them, almost in silence! (Stowe 421)
But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of gloty, honor, and immortal life; and where His spirit is, nether degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian’s last struggle less than glorious. (Stowe 421)
Tom's statement that he would die for his master demonstrates his docility; he not only refuses to defend himself, but would die for someone who treats him so cruelly. However, Tom’s faith in God and his love of Jesus is so strong that it is worth risking death to save someone else’s soul. His words affect Legree, but he resists them notheless:
Like a strange snatch of heavenly music, heard in the lull of a tempest, his burst of feeling made a moment’s blank pause. Legree stood aghast, and looked at Tom; and there was such a silence, that the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring, with silent touch, the last moments of mercy and probation to that hardened heart.
It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause – one irresolute, relenting thrill, - and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground. (Stowe 358)
Abolitionist discourse and literature offered representations of slaves and black people, combined with antislavery opinions and views, which became interwoven in the fabric of slave narratives. While their goals may have been the same, white abolitionists and slaves had very different histories and personal experiences. Built within a difficult time period in history, the slave narratives comprise the agreements and antagonisms both of black and white abolitionists, while ultimately articulating black self determination and a unifying demand for freedom. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin was meant to make white Americans reconsider the moral consequences of slavery. Stowe believed that more could be accomplished through faith in God.” (Carlson 40)
Despite the controversies surrounding the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin went beyond its fictional genre, and brought the issue of slavery’s brutality into the homes of white Americans. It inspired many into becoming abolitionist sympathizers, as throughout the book, Stowe seeks to understand and to communicate to her readers the point of view of African Americans under slavery. As Julie Carlson observes, she chose to present her views in a fictional story because she wanted the readers to respond emotionally to the struggles of her characters:
Early in the book, she writes that black slaves “are not naturally daring and entreprising, but home-loving and affectionate.” She aimed to make readers feel the suffering of slaves and develop compassion for gentle humans forced to live in inhumane conditions. Stowe compensated for the sentimental, depressing content of the book by sometimes using a humorous tone. (Carlson 40)
In conclusion, Uncle Tom’s Cabin exposes a different kind of strategy of resistance – passive resistance, as Tom believed in a spiritual freedom and had strong Christian beliefs. I think that ultimately Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s success is due to the fact that it did not permit its audience to escape reality. Taking advantages of conventional sentimental strategies, Stowe aroused emotions in readers’ souls and urged them to identify with the suffering of slaves so that they would understand the uselessness of slavery and the necessity of the abolitionism cause.
Although strategies varied, the goal remained the same: freedom and equality, as slavery in the United States, just like anywhere else in the world represented the erase of the individual, breaking its family bonds, disrupting the normal stages of childhood and later that of the adult it meant brutal work, cruel treatments and a life lived under submission and fear. The white master usually got away with the beatings, the raping and most often even the killing of his slaves without receiving any sort of punishment.
It was a dreadful condition for any black person, be it man or woman as it meant more than just their physical freedom it was a state of ignorance and mental confusion. Left without the power of the written word the slaves were not allowed to read and write because their white owners knew that once they had acquired the literacy they would be able to rid themselves of the chains of slavery. Most often few were the chosen ones who could be able to read and write and just like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs who were taught reading and writing once they had the skill they were outraged knowing the full extent of slavery and how unjust it is to them. Because learning for the slave opened his or her eyes and made him or her see that slavery was not the order meant by God but it was the malicious dominant chain of the whites. Once acknowledging the power of literacy the slave had the strength to endure and when the time was right make his or her escape, as was the case with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs.
The most tremendous effect of slavery was not solely on the individual but on his family as well. White masters most often disrupted the natural bonds between family members, brothers, sisters, parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles alike were sold like cattle in the slave market forever estranged from one another not knowing if they were able to see each other again. The white masters’ interfered even in the union of slaves sometimes not allowing his slave to get married or taking advantage of his female slaves without minding that they had a family with husband and children. Children could not always bond with their mothers as the mother had to work from dust till dawn and there was no time left to care for her offspring. Therefore, slavery left the individual without his family without a support and even though it did try to destroy the nuclear family, it succeeded in keeping itself alive through the strong ties that not even the power of the lash could break.
As it is well known slavery implied work, for the slave it meant bad treatments and beatings either whippings or even severe forms or harming the human body. What slavery meant for a female and a male slave is the distinction that I tried to show in my paper. Both female and male had to work if they were unlucky field hands their laboured from sunrise till sundown on the field, if they were house servants they had a slightly milder treatment. Equally male and female were treated inadequately suffering from hunger and knowing that their family could be split apart at any moment in time if the master chose to sell children or relatives. Apart from the toil of every day life and worries of a slave the female had to suffer something even worse than males. Women were chattel and treated in that manner; they were abused physically and emotionally and ended up bearing offspring for her abuser which were then sold on the slave market irrespective of the fact that most often they were the children of the master.
All in all, I think that the narratives of
former slaves, along with Uncle Tom’s
Cabin remain an excellent and unique resource for understanding the lives
of the millions of
Accomando, Christina. “The Laws Were Laid Down to Me Anew: Harriet Jacobs and the Reframing of Legal Fictions”. African American Review. 32.2 (1998)
Ames, William C. The Negro’s struggle for equality in the
L., and Frances Smith Foster, Trudier
Harris, eds. “Douglass,
Beardslee, E. Karen. Through Slave Culture's Lens Comes the Abundant Source: Harriet A. Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. MELUS. 24.1 (1999): 39-40.
Bontemps, Alex. The Punished Self: Surviving Slavery in the
Brewton, Vince. Bold
Burt, John. Learning to Write: The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. Western Humanities Review 42, no. 4 (winter 1988): 330-44.
Carlson, Julie. Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Abolitionist
Drake, Kimberly. “Rewriting the American Self: Race, Gender, and Identity in the Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs.” MELUS 22.4 (Winter 1997): 90-104.
William. Them Dark Days: Slavery in the
American Rice Swamps.
Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave
“Harriet A. Jacobs (Harriet Ann), 1813-1897.” Documenting the American South. 25 Dec 2009 < https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jacobs/bio.html>
“Introduction to the Slave Narrative.” Documenting the American South. 22 Dec. 2009
Jay, S. Gregory. 'American Literature and the New Historicism: The Example of Frederick Douglass' Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture 17 (Spring 1990): 230-45.
Li, Stephanie, “Motherhood as Resistance in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” A Journal of American Women Writers 23.1 ( 2006)
Matzke, P. Jason.
Robert and John E. Garraty. The American
Nation: A History of the
Randle, Gloria T. “Between the rock and the hard place: mediating spaces in Harriet Jacob's ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’”. African American Review. 33.1 (Spring 1999)
Riley, Glenda. Inventing the American Woman: a Perspective
on Women’s History.
Royer, Daniel J. “The Process of Literacy as Communal Involvement in the Narratives of Frederick Douglass.” African American Review 28.3 (Fall 1994): 363-74.
Sinanan, Kerry. The Slave Narrative and the Literature of Abolition.
“Slave Narrative.” Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to Black History. 10 Jan. 2010
“Slavery.” Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to Black History. 10 Jan 2010. <https://www.britannica.com/blackhistory/article-9109538>
“Slavery in the
“Slavery in the
Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Waldo, Martin E. Jr.
The Mind of Frederick Douglass. NC:
Washington, Margaret, “From Motives of Delicacy: Sexuality and Morality in the Narratives of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Jacobs”. The Journal of African American History. 92.1 (2007)
Fagan. Incidents in the Life of a Slave
Girl. The Concise
Boxill, Bernard. Race
Campos, David. Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938: Stories as a Catalyst for Historical Comprehension. Black History Bulletin 69.2 (Winter-Spring 2006): 8-14.
Curtin, D. Philip. The
Rise and Fall of the
Donald, G. Mathews. Agitation for Freedom: the Abolitionist Movement.
“Frederick Douglass.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe. 2005 ed.
Franklin, John Hope. From slavery to Freedom: a History of American Negroes.
Kawash, Samira. Dislocating
the Color line: Identity, Hybridity and Singularity in African- American
Miller, Jennie. “Harriet Jacobs and the ‘Double Burden’ of American Slavery”. International Social Science Review 78.1-2 (2003): 31-41
Osofsky, Gilbert. The
Burden of Race: A Documentary History of Negro-White Relations in
Porter, B. Dorothy. The Negro in the
Rayback, G. Joseph. A history of American Labor.
Rozwenc, C. Edwin. Slavery
as a cause of a Civil War / edited with an introduction by Edwin C. Rozwenc.
Smith, Barbara. The
Reader's Companion to
Stewart, James Brewer. Holy Warriors: the Abolitionists and American Slavery.
Taves, Ann. “Spiritual Purity and Sexual Shame: Religious Themes in the Writings of Harriet Jacobs”. Church History. Volume: 56 (1987): 39-61.
Politica de confidentialitate|
Adauga cod HTML in site